Sep 30

Brian celebrates 40 years young with surprises and Flourless Chocolate Cake

Last week was my husband’s 40th birthday. Celebrating was in order. I planned the weekend of his birthday months in advance. You see I knew that his parents and brother were flying in to surprise him. So I looked around, booked a room at a local restaurant for the party, asked him to make a guest list, we picked out the menu, and then I asked him if there was any dessert he would like what would it be? He said he had to think about it, and that was fine by me…because I was now not only keeping the secret that his parents and brother were arriving, but that my sister was flying in too.

The French Apple Tarts and Flourless Chocolate Cake all read for the celebration!

The French Apple Tarts and Flourless Chocolate Cake all read for the celebration!

As the weeks went by I asked Brian again what dessert he would like. After some contemplating, he came to a conclusion of two desserts! Could I blame him? Absolutely not! He wanted two very different desserts, so that everyone could possibly have something they like. (One of the many qualities I admire about him; he is always thinking of everyone.) Brian asked for me to make something very fall, very fitting – a simple French Apple Tart. These tarts are easy, and elegant in their own way. The other dessert he requested…Flourless Chocolate Cake! I should have known this is the one thing Brian would have asked for. When we had a bakery he loved indulging in a slice of this cake from time to time as we always had it on the menu. It is rich, smooth in texture, possess deep chocolate flavor, and lays nicely on the tongue.  A rich and flourless chocolate cake topped with chocolate ganche; it was very elegant and sophisticated.  Both desserts were quite fitting for a 40th birthday celebration if you ask me.

Two tiered Flourless Chocolate Cake, topped with Chocolate Ganache and 24 kt. Gold Leafing.

Two tiered Flourless Chocolate Cake, topped with Chocolate Ganache and 24 kt. Gold Leafing.

So while planning the finalities on the desserts I got a phone call from my parents. They decided to fly in last minute for Brian’s birthday too. Oh, and they wanted it to be a surprise as well. So now I had three very big secrets to keep from Brian and two very special desserts to make. This was going to be some party. So on the Wednesday before his birthday I called Brian in the afternoon and asked if I could take him on a date. Where did I take him? To the local Marriott, I surprised him with his parents and brother waiting in the lobby for him. You should have seen the look on his face. He was dumbfounded and shocked. The next afternoon I had made reservations for lunch at the restaurant I work for. Brian walked in and was surprised with my parents there too (surprise # 2) . He was grinning and told me- “Wow! I feel so loved!” The following day I came home from work with my sister in tow…Surprise #3! Brian was swept away with glee. He said to me the next day as I got underway with the dessert, “I am overwhelmed. I really cannot believe that everyone is here for me. And now, it’s almost time for cake!” You have got to love his enthusiasm.

The night of the party went really well. Brian’s friends, co-workers, and our families had a great time. We all indulged on some great eats, many libations, and then some desserts! Both of the desserts I made were big hits and some people took home a slice or two with them. Three big surprises, festivities that lasted all week long equal out to a not so bad birthday celebration in my book. Brian was a bit overwhelmed and taken back. He kept repeating to me- “It was only a birthday, everyone didn’t have to come all this way.” I think it was a memorable birthday for him. That and I think he choose well where dessert was concerned. Maybe it is experience that comes with age? Or maybe he is just good when it comes to deciding sweets? I will let you decide that one. For now, Happy Birthday Brian! So glad it was a special one.

Sparklers ontop of cake to celebrate.

Sparklers ontop of cake to celebrate.

Flourless Chocolate Cake (makes one 8-9 inch cake)

*This recipe can be doubled easily. For Brian’s birthday cake I doubled it and split it between a 10 inch and 8 inch cake pan.

1 lb of bitter sweet chocolate (chopped if needed)

5 oz. of butter

5 eggs (separated)

1 tbsp of sugar

First, on a double boiler melt down the chocolate and the butter until smooth, let it cool slightly.

Next, preheat your oven to 300 degrees, and grease an 8 inch pan, then line the bottom with parchment.

Then, using a mixer on high speed wisk the egg whites until foamy. Gradually add the sugar. Continue to whisk until stiff peaks form. But do not over whisk.

Meanwhile, blend the yolks with the chocolate mixture until smooth. Gently fold in the whipped whites a third of them at a time into your chocolate mixture. Do not over mix or the whites will clasps. But be sure not to leave any streaks in the batter either.

Finally, scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake in a water bath for 25 – 40 minutes until slightly set and lightly firm. Cool on a wire rack and then chill in the refrigerator 8 hours or overnight. It will then be ready to pop out of pan and use. If you gently heat the bottom of your pan your cake should quickly pop out of the pan.

 

Chocolate Ganache (enough for 1 cake)

5 oz.  Semi-sweet chocolate (chips are fine but chopped chocolate is best)

1/2 cups cream

First, place Cream and chocolate in a bowl of a double boiler over medium heat (there should only be an inch or two of water in the pan, and the bowl should not be touching the water).

Next, you will want to gently stir the chocolate and the cream together as the chocolate melts. You will keep stirring until your chocolate and cream have unison and are a smooth sauce, and glossy looking.

Finally, remove your mixture from heat and let cool slightly before using.  You will want to pour the ganache over the top center of the cake and let it gently drip down the sides. Let it chill together so that the ganache sets.  Note: If using you can decorate with some gold leafing. A little bit goes a long way. Serve at room temperature. (can hold up to 4 days in a refrigerator if needed.)

Sep 16

Rita’s Tortellini Salad

My mother has several rock solid recipes that she is known for. One of them is Tortellini Salad. She has been making it for years.  It is often requested when she goes to family and friend gatherings. It is bold and bright in flavor. It has the crunch from the many veggies that are in it, not to mention a punch from the fresh garlic and crushed red pepper she always adds.

I can remember once making a large batch of it with my mom for one of our family gathering that my husband attended when we were dating.  About a week later my husband had a pot luck at work and called me asking for the recipe. I laughed and gladly gave it to him, and not too long after he told me one of his co-workers called him asking for the famous salad recipe.  I guess you can say the recipe has made the rounds.

Veggies, olives, and garlic ready.

Veggies, olives, and garlic ready.

Just last week we had plans to go to a friend’s place for a roof top BBQ. I was contemplating what to make. I really do not like showing up with a dessert all the time because I feel like people expect it coming from a pastry chef. When you bake and make pastries all day long I sometimes feel like I need to branch out and make something different to break the chain of it all. I opened up my freezer when I noticed I had tortellini – ahh haa! I knew what I was making!

I had everything I needed for the recipe, it was a no brainer. I started chopping, roasting a pepper, and cooking the tortellini. I had it all made, and marinating in the refrigerator when I received a call from Brian. Unfortunately, our plans had been cancelled because not everyone could make it. But the salad was ready and Brian’s response was – More for us! So that evening we enjoyed some of my mom’s famous salad. It was delicious, and enjoyed the next day for lunch as well. Trust me with this recipe. It is full proof, crowd pleasing, and super tasty. I am sure you will not be disappointed, and you will make my mom proud if you make it.

My mom's (Rita) Tortellini Salad, dressed and ready.

My mom’s (Rita) Tortellini Salad, dressed and ready.

Rita’s Tortellini Salad (feeds 4-6)

*This recipe is easily doubled and tripled when needed. Also, this is the way I like to make it. My mom makes it with the addition of some chopped black olives (canned olives) and a  few tablespoons of capers.

1 pound of Cheese Tortellini (I personally use the frozen ones)

1 large carrot

2 stalks of celery

1 bell pepper

1 roasted pepper (freshly roasted or jarred)

2 cups green Sicilian Olives

*all the above chopped small

1 clove garlic minced

1 tsp crushed red pepper

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

¼ cup red wine vinegar

5-6 fresh basil leaves, chopped

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

First, place a four quart pot full with salted water over high heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling gently add you tortellini and cook per packaged instructions. Once cooked drain and toss with about a 1 tbsp of you olive oil and set aside.

Next, in your serving bowl place all your veggies, olives, and garlic. To this add your mustard, crushed red pepper, olive oil, and vinegar.  Toss it all together and then add your tortellini to it.  And toss it again. Place it in the refrigerator, covered; to chill and marinate together.  (Best when sits anywhere from an hour to overnight.)

Finally, before serving remove from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. (I like to let it sit for at least twenty minutes.) Upon serving sprinkle it with your basil, sea salt, and black pepper. Toss it all together and it is ready to enjoy.

Sep 10

Family Meal Tostadas

There was a catering company I worked for a couple of years back called Nosh Away, and there was a real a sense of “family” between us. I mean when you work the way we did: producing huge meals and events, it was not uncommon I guess. You see for each event you have to pack everything up, load it all in a truck or two; and then travel to events. Once you are there everything gets unloaded and set up. Once that is done you have to prep all the food for plating and serving. When it is all over you have to wrap things up, pack it all up for return to the kitchen. We would finally unload, clean it up, and then start again for the next event.  It was often done in close quarters with make shift tables of sorts, so working like a team makes things work efficiently and somewhat smoothly.  Sounds crazy I know, but we always were able to laugh at it as we went along. 021 Very often when we were at our main kitchen during the week we had family meal. One of the staff would cook a meal for us all to enjoy. We would sit in the break room, enjoy our meal and chat about life. It really was like we were a “little family”. We all had our favorite meals. Sometimes if the main kitchen forgot to ask myself and the other pastry chef for something they needed (usually a time consuming pastry…like a wedding cake) they would make us one of our favorites. For Rumi, my dear friend and fellow pastry chef; it was Latkes a.k.a potato pancakes. They were yummy, but if it was my choice; I always wanted tostadas. And yes, after eating these foods we would agree to just about any of their requests. 030 If you are not aware of what a tostada is you have been missing out. Especially, the way my old coworkers made these. The tostadas were made with corn tortillas and pinto beans that have simmered a while creating a depth of flavor. We would add toppings and of course freshly made salsa. I was in heaven eating them. I personally think they are so good because you get so much satisfaction in just a few bites. You see the tortilla is fried until it is crispy so you get this nice “crunch” factor. Topping the tortilla with the simmered beans; then adding some salsa, cheese, lettuce, and sour cream – you get it all. The richness from the beans, the spicy kick from the salsa, the cheese and sour cream adds a calming factor to it all, and  the lettuce adds a bit more crunch and refreshing cleanse to it all. Weird I know, but this is weird good! So good! 027   I have made this “family meal” at home for my husband and he has become a fan! I have made it for my parents and uncles on one of their visits. Although different to how and what they normally would eat, they did enjoy it. I can remember my Uncle Dave raving over the salsa. Personally, I think that is why a dish like this is so delicious and comforting. You customize it on your plate and make it your own. I; much like my husband Brian like to try and get a little bit of it all in each bite. It is total taste gratification. I made this meal again last week and Brian was telling me how he thought this meal is blog worthy. So here it is, but not just because I wanted to tell you about the meal itself. More important is how I miss those old coworkers. We have all gone our separate ways and try to keep in touch. We sometimes get together for a meal, although as time goes by it gets harder and harder to all get together. I miss them all. I have never worked with a greater group of individuals. I miss the old Nosh Away crew…love you all like family!  I think we should all get together for an old fashion family meal. 032 Pinto Bean Tostadas (feed 2 or more) *This recipe is easily doubled and tripled. 1- 15 oz can of pinto beans 1 clove of garlic, chopped small 1 shallot, chopped small 1 tomato, roughly chopped 2 tbsp of olive oil 1 tbsp of honey 1 cup of veggie or chicken stock ¼ tsp of chili powder Sea Salt to taste Corn Tortillas (about 2-3 per person) ¼ head of lettuce, chopped small Sour Cream ¼ – ½ cup cheese, (Queso fresco or cheddar) Hot sauce 1 lime, sliced Salsa Verde (recipe to follow) Vegetable oil (for frying) First, place a four quart pot over medium heat. Once warmed through add your onion and garlic and stir and simmer until fragrant. Add in the can of beans (liquid and all) and stir well. Add in the chili powder, stock, tomato, and honey. Let is all simmer and stir every so often. Next, make your salsa (recipe below) and chill. Place a 10 inch frying pan over medium heat and fill with about ½ inch of vegetable oil. Once oil is heated through add your corn tortillas, one at a time. Let them “fry” until bubbly and golden and place on a paper towel lined plate to drain. Sprinkle each one with a bit of sea salt when draining. Then, you bean mixture should be reduced a bit. Remove from the heat and I like to mash a bit of the mixture. Either with the back of a wooden spoon, or using a hand held emersion blender. Only mashing or pureeing a bit. Stir it well and season it to taste. Finally, to serve place you beans in a bowl and have your tortillas on a plate. On the side have your cheese, sour cream, salsa, and lettuce.  If you like you can also add hot sauce and limes. Assemble as you wish and enjoy! 024 Salsa Verde (makes 1 ½ cup) 1 onion, quartered 1 jalapeno, or 2 serrano peppers, stem cut off and roughly chopped 1 clove of garlic 1 bunch of cilantro, leaves and tops of stems only 1 -2 limes, zested and juiced Sea Salt to taste First, in the base of a food processor place all but your limes and sea salt. Pulse your processor a bit to break down you ingredients. Then, add your lime zest and a bit of juice at a time while your processor is running. You are looking to add the juice until your mixture is broken down and as smooth as you would like it. Finally, place the mixture in a bowl and season with a bit of sea salt. Cover and chill until ready to serve. (Lasts up to a week in your refrigerator.)

Sep 04

Buttermilk Vanilla Bean Pound Cake (Happy 3 Years Vagabond)

It was recently my three year anniversary of this blog. Time sure does fly by! I really enjoy sitting down and writing about my cooking – baking – family – experiences – and fun.  Although; the past two weeks I had a really hard time sitting down and writing. Brian has taken on a new project at work that means he has to travel a bit, I have started a new job, and there has been lots of planning for Brian’s birthday that is right around the corner. This is not just any birthday; this is his 40th, so there is definite reason for celebrating!

Buttermilk Vanilla Bean Pound Cake

Buttermilk Vanilla Bean Pound Cake

I know that a three year anniversary for the blog may not be as big as a 40th birthday, but I wanted to do something to honor it. I thought long and hard on what it should be. Not too fancy, nothing frilly, but just a little bit sweet and honorary. It made me think back to the cakes we had growing up. My mother would often bake us a cake. Yes it came from a box mix, but that was her way. My mother could make great lasagnas, tripe that the family would fawn over, soulful soups, meatloaves that make your mouth water, and bowls of pasta that are so comforting upon eating them you feel nothing but love.  All of these things she made from scratch. I would sit with my sister in the kitchen and watched her chop her veggies, pour olive oil from the gallon tin she kept in the cabinet, she simmered and cooked away…she did it all. I guess you can say my sister and I learned from the best.

Cake and fresh berries, reason to celebrate!

Cake and fresh berries, reason to celebrate!

Baking is just not my mother’s forte.  So I will let it slide that the cakes she made us always came from a box mix. It was always done with love like everything else she made. She always made her cakes in a pretty round bunt pan. As a child I always thought these pans rivaled a castle the way it had peeks and crevices. After depanning each cake she baked she dusted it powdered sugar. My sister and I would wait until she would cut us a slice and we would eat it with the powdered sugar sprinkling on us. It was joy! I loved each and every one of those cakes. I wanted another cake like that. One that was simple, with powdered sugar, and enough that made three years of blog writing more than worthy. I dug out my bunt pan that is similar to the one my mom has. I made a simple Buttermilk Vanilla Bean Pound Cake. When it came out of the pan I dusted it with powdered sugar and served it up with some fresh berries. No box mix in my kitchen to be had. I enjoyed it as the week grew on just like those cakes my mom made us. I just wish my mother and sister were here to share it with. Happy 3 years vagabond! Now off for more party planning for Brian.

This cake is moist and buttery, just the way a pound cake should be.

This cake is moist and buttery, just the way a pound cake should be.

Buttermilk Vanilla Bean Pound Cake (serve 10-12)

2 ½ cups of cake flour

1 tbsp of baking powder

¾ tsp of sea salt

8 oz of butter, room temperature

1 ¼ cup of sugar

5 eggs, beaten

1 tsp of vanilla extract

1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

1/3 cup of buttermilk

First, preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour your bunt pan well and set aside.  In a bowl combine you flour, baking powder, and sea salt and set aside.

Next, in the bowl of a standing mixer place your butter and sugar. With a paddle attachment mix it together until you mixture is light and fluffy. Add your eggs, extract, and vanilla bean seeds and mix on low until it is all well combined. You might want to stop a couple times and scrape down the sides of bowl and paddle to be sure it is evenly combined.

Then, slowly add you flour mixture to your butter mixture. Stir it until just combined. Follow that with your buttermilk. Stir it until your mixture is evenly moistened. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and smooth it across the top. Place it in the center of your oven and bake for 45 minutes – 1 hour. Until a toothpick comes out clean from the center of the cake upon testing.

Finally, let cake cool about 30 minutes. After cooling carefully run a knife along all the sides of the cake. Place a platter or plate over the top of the cake and gently flip the two together so your platter is now on your counter and the cake will depan onto it. You might need to tap the pan and bit or give it a jiggle, but is should come out in one smooth motion. Dust the top with powdered sugar and serve

Aug 23

Black and Blue Cupcakes with Goat Cheese Icing

I have been admiring all the berries at the farmer’s markets and grocery store. When you walk by the berries they are beautiful hues of reds, purple, blue, and somewhat pinkish. I hold myself back from grabbing a handful and popping them in my mouth for a taste as I walk pass them. How can you resist? Not only do they look gorgeous, their flavor is so bright and ripe.

Black and Blue Cupcake batter all mixed.

Black and Blue Cupcake batter all mixed.

As I was gazing at some the other day, I picked up some blueberries and blackberries that were just picked from one of the local farms. I started to think about how I love to eat cheese when I eat fruit, so I stopped by a cheese counter at the market and purchased some fresh goat cheese and headed on my way home. While walking home my mind wandered into how underutilized cheese is when it comes to desserts. I mean besides a cheese plate, cream cheese, or ricotta – how often does cheese actually make an appearance in a sweet ending to a meal?  I love when my thoughts go off on their own tangents because you never really know when inspiration will hit.

Cupcake wrappers filled and in the oven to bake.

Cupcake wrappers filled and in the oven to bake.

By the time I was home, inspiration stepped in. I was thinking of making some cupcakes…berry, filled-to-the-rim cupcakes! There was only one possibility to go along with it…a goat cheese icing to top them off with. The goat cheese would be used like that of a cream cheese. Instead of that sour quality that cream cheese possesses, the goat cheese would lend it’s tangy flavor. Taking this and lightly sweetening it, and adding in some vanilla, it would play off the sweet and tart flavor of the berry filled cupcakes. I got to baking and when cupcakes were out of the oven I helped myself to one. It was delicious and the berries burst and oozed with their juices. As I whipped up the icing I tested the flavor, and then again, and again; I was like puppy love – I was in total infatuation. Once again, I held myself back – there is nothing pretty about eating a batch of icing all by yourself with a spoon.

Black and Blue Cupcakes fresh out of the oven.

Black and Blue Cupcakes fresh out of the oven.

All in all it was a great experiment. I was extremely pleased with the pairing of it all. When Brian came home and ate one after dinner, he looked at me and asked, “Can I have another?” Of course, but we wrapped up the others and I gave them to Brian to take to work with him. His co-workers graciously helped themselves, and I have been told that they are waiting for this recipe to be written up. So here it is for all to enjoy. And let me just leave you with a warning: the icing is enough for a double batch of cupcakes, if you can resist eating with a spoon on its own. Enjoy!

Cupcakes topped with their yummy Goat Cheese icing.

Cupcakes topped with their yummy Goat Cheese icing.

Black and Blue Cupcakes (makes 15)

(***Note: the cupcake wrappers you see above I purchased at Sur la Table. They are great because they “stand” on their own, doing away with the cupcake pan! Also they come in a variety of patterns and colors!)

4 oz butter, softened

¾ cup sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg

2 cups AP flour

½ tsp sea salt

2 tsp baking powder

½ cup buttermilk

2 cups blueberries, heaping

2 cups blackberries, heaping (roughly chopped if they are large)

First; in a bowl, whisk together your flour, sea salt, and baking powder and set aside. In the bowl of a mixer place your sugar and butter and mix until it is light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and the egg and mix until just combined, scraping down the edge of the bowl to be sure all is incorporated.

Next, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In three parts alternate your flour mixture, followed by your buttermilk to your sugar and butter mixture. Stir until just combined and not over mixed. Fold in your blue and black berries until well combined.

Finally, scoop your batter into your cupcake wrappers. You are looking to fill the wrappers about ¾ of the way full. Place in the center of the oven and bake about 25 minutes, rotating it half way through. You are looking for the cake to be firm to touch, golden and slightly browned. Let cool about 30 minutes before eating or icing. Keep up to 3 days, but best to be refrigerated.

Icing (makes enough for a double batch of cupcakes)

4 oz butter, softened

4 oz fresh goat cheese, at room temperature

3 cups of powdered sugar, sifted

1 tbsp of vanilla extract

2 – 3 tbsp of milk

First, place your butter and goat cheese in the bowl of your mixer and mix until it is well combined and fluffy.

Next, adding ½ – 1 cup of your powdered sugar at a time to your butter mixture with the mixer running on low. Wait until all the powdered sugar is combined before adding more. Once all the sugar is combined add your vanilla and a bit of milk at a time until you feel the icing has the consistency that you like. (I aim for spreadable while still able to keep its shape.)

Finally, you can ice your cupcakes right away. You can store the remainder of the icing in an air tight container, refrigerated for two weeks. When ready to reuse, be sure to bring to room temperature before trying to spread it. (If you still feel it is too stiff you can remix it with a bit of milk to make it spreadable.)

 

Aug 12

Fresh Spring Rolls with Spicy Asian Peanut Sauce

Several years ago I read an article about fresh spring rolls. It was intriguing; the pictures were beautiful to look at and they sounded delicious. But I never made them. I admired the article and the fresh spring rolls at an arms distance. I cannot explain why I didn’t attempt them; I guess there was something about the whole thing that was daunting to me.

My favorite makings of fresh spring rolls.

My favorite makings of fresh spring rolls.

Fast forward, to a couple of years ago. I was in one of the Asian markets here in Seattle and saw rice papers and thought to myself- “There is no time like the present.” I gave it a few tries before I felt I really knew what I was doing. There is a balance between soaking the rice papers and how moist or hydrated you want to keep them before trying to fill and roll them. Also, keeping your filling as organized and neatly together helps the rolls stay together rather than fall apart on you. Other than that; they could not have been any simpler to make. Why was I so hesitant to try them in the first place?

Sliced and chopped vegetables.

Sliced and chopped vegetables.

The fun part of it all is that you can fill the spring rolls with just about anything. I have seen them stuffed with lettuce leaves poking out of the top of them, large boiled shrimps, variety of herbs, strips of chicken, crunchy vegetables, and even rice.  I personally like to think about how I would like it to feel as you bite into it. Do not forget that what you dip it into is where the real fun comes in. I am sure can you think of any number of dressings or sauces to serve with them. (It is really just like a salad after all.) But I like to keep it somewhat Asian by mixing up a spicy peanut sauce to serve alongside. The fresh array of veggies, rice noodles, and tofu I fill the wrapper with go with the rich spicy peanut sauce. If you are like us, you will be using a spoon dribble the sauce onto the rolls. It is so good we like to get as much of it on there as we can.

Neatly wrapping up the roll will lead to easier eating.

Neatly wrapping up the roll will lead to easier eating.

Now, since this is relatively a cold dish it is perfect for these warm summer nights. The only thing you really need to cook – or should I say warm – is the rice paper. All that really entails is a tea kettle filled with water. We have made a meal of them and enjoyed them for dinner, but they can be made as an appetizer and even serve them up for a lunch. I have made them up and placed them in a plastic container and brought them as a treat for others too. Just like what you place in them, the possibilities are endless. I just hope you are not intimidated by them as I once was. Give them a try and dig in, you will not be disappointed.

Fresh Veggie Spring Rolls with Spicy Asian Peanut Sauce

Fresh Veggie Spring Rolls with Spicy Asian Peanut Sauce

Fresh Spring Rolls (serves 4-6) Rice Papers (about 12) Thin Rice Noodles (a large handful) 1 red bell pepper; cut into even, thin strips 1 large carrot; cut into even, thin strips 1 cucumber; cut into even, thin strips 5-6 leaves of cabbage, thinly shredded 2 scallions, chopped small 5 mint leaves, thinly sliced 1 – 2 tbsp of chopped cilantro 1 block of tofu, sliced thinly First; mix your cabbage, scallion, mint, and cilantro together and set aside. Have organized all your veggies and cabbage mixture together along with your tofu nearby. Next, place the rice noodles in a large bowl and cover the rice noodles with boiled “hot” water. Cover the bowl and let it sit for about two minutes. Once the noodles are softened drain in a colander and rinse under running cool water. Strain them again and set aside. Then, in a bowl or deep plate (big enough to fit your rice paper) place your rice paper and cover it with warm / hot water to soften.  Once rice paper is softened place it on a clean work surface. Neatly, layer in your veggies, tofu, and rice noodles in the center of your rice paper. Finally; to wrap the spring roll up you will take the bottom end and fold it up, over the veggies. Take the two opposing ends and fold them in and over the bottom half. Now, gently roll the stuffed rice paper up toward the open end of the rice paper until it is one cylinder form. The rice paper will stick to itself to seal. Place them on a platter with their dipping sauce and serve. Note: If serving at a later time cover the spring rolls with a dampened paper towel and cover it tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving. Also when plating, I like to layer them between crisp lettuce leaves,

Spicy Asian Peanut Sauce

Spicy Asian Peanut Sauce

Spicy Asian Peanut Sauce 1 cup of all natural peanut butter 2 Thai chilies, minced 1 scallion, chopped small 1 clove of garlic, minced 1 tsp ginger, freshly grated 1 lime, zested and juiced 1- 2 tbsp of brown sugar 1 tsp of Siracha Chili sauce 1 tbsp of soy sauce Rice wine vinegar, to taste Water, to taste First, in a bowl place your peanut butter along with all your other ingredients (except the water). Using a whisk gently stir the mixture together until it is combined and thick. Finally, adding in a bit of water at a time to your peanut butter mixture. Keep mixing the water in until you sauce is smooth but will still coat the back of a spoon. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Feel free to add more vinegar or soy. Serve along the side of your fresh spring rolls.

Aug 08

When your surroundings change there is so much to learn. (Like, Verdolaga aka: Purselane)

It was not long after my move to Phoenix that Brian and I bought a home. We were so young, we had so many ideas, so many ambitions, so much enthusiasm, and yet we had no clue about so many things. The climate and style of living in the southwest is much different from that of New Jersey; so needless to say we had a big learning curve.

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Freshly washed and trimmed Verdolaga aka: Purselane

We held our own. Painting each room, demoing odd cabinetry and shelves, changing out light fixtures with a few phone calls to my dad (he was an electrician when I was a little girl), but when it came to gardening we really knew nothing. We tried to grow a few things, killed a couple of plants on accident, and did lots of weeding. A year or two later we were at the downtown farmer’s market and I noticed something odd. One of the venders was selling the same greens we were weeding and trying to get rid of in our yard. I questioned the farmer about them and she explained that it was Verdolaga, or also known as Purselane.

Sautéed Verdolaga with Onions

It is an edible succulent that grows annually. The farmer explained that it has a similar taste to spinach, and in many Mexican homes it is not uncommon to cook it quickly with onions and tomatoes. I purchased some and tried it out that week. (I couldn’t make use the ones growing in our back yard because we used a weed killer on them and no longer had any.) It turns out that we loved it. The green did have a very similar flavor to that of spinach, but it had a much nicer texture to it. I tried making it with so many things, but simply with some eggs is by far my favorite. At a farmer’s market here in Seattle I found the Verdolaga, aka: Purselane again. I was so happy; I really thought it was just a southwest thing that I would not come across living here in the Pacific Northwest. So the other night for dinner I prepared it in our favorite most simple way possible. Just sautéed -with onion and a bit of olive oil. Serve it alongside a sunny side up egg and your favorite salsa. You will be amazed at the brightness of the flavors and simplicity of it all. If you come across some Verdolaga or Purselane anytime soon. Give it a try. I only wish I wasn’t trying to kill it all that time, I could have been enjoying it with eggs on a regular basis.

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Verdolaga and a Sunny Side Up Egg topped with Salsa

Sautéed Verdolaga aka: Purselane (Serves 2-4)

1 bunch of Verdolaga; washed well, trimmed, and a roughly chopped

1 small onion, sliced thin

2 – 4 tbsp of olive oil

Sea Salt and black pepper to taste

Eggs (1 or 2 per person)

Salsa

First; take a large, heavy bottomed sauté pan (about 10 inches) and place it over medium heat. Once heated through add in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and warm it slightly. Add in your onion and gently sauté for about 5 minutes.

Next; once your onions are translucent and a bit golden on the edges add in your Verdolaga. You want to gently stir it all together. You are looking for the greens to begin to wilt. Add a bit of sea salt and black pepper and stir again. When the greens are evenly wilted you can remove from the heat and set aside.

Then; place a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add in your remainder of olive oil and heat though. Crack your eggs and gently add them to the pan. You want to let the eggs sizzle until the edges are slightly golden and the whites are set and cooked though; while your yolk will still jiggle, and then remove from heat.  (*Note: depending on how many eggs you are cooking you might need to use more olive oil, adding more as you cook each egg.)

Finally; place a bit of your Verdolaga and onions in your plate and alongside place your cooked eggs. Top it with your favorite salsa and along with some potatoes or warmed tortillas and enjoy.

 

 

Jul 31

Raspberry and Nectarine Pie with Almond Streusel

It is really uncommon to have either day of the weekend off when you work in a restaurant. Miraculously, I ended up with this Saturday off a week ago! This means I was sharing a day off with Brian – an extremely rare event. We treated it like it was a mini vacation touring about the city.

We went to a special bakery for “breakfast”, hit up an obscure coffee shop you enter through an alley, walked through one of the neighborhood farmer markets, had lunch at my favorite whole in the wall Indian restaurant, walked my uncles’ dog, came home and walked our own girls, and then watched a three hour documentary on J.D. Salinger . It was a fun filled and packed day to say the least. Completely, and totally in a vagabond style. I personally think it is the only way I do things, random and then see where you end up. There is always an element of surprise that way. The downside is you end up tired and you don’t feel like you really had a day off! Also, you don’t feel like really cooking or baking anything.

My girls, tiered from a long afternoon walk with us. They look like I felt.

My girls, tired from a long afternoon walk with us. They look like I felt.

So when Wednesday of this week rolled around and I had another day off I was determined to hang out around the apartment and get a bunch of relaxation in. Relaxing and hanging out indoors was not hard considering that the temperature dropped below 70 degrees and never really saw the sun come through. I had a small flat of raspberries from a local farm in the refrigerator along with really rip nectarines sitting in a bowl on my counter. This was the perfect opportunity to combine the two and make something, like a pie perhaps?!?

Rspberry and nectarine Pie with Almond Struesle Topping. Latte watching over to be sure it is all good!

Raspberry and Nectarine Pie with Almond Struesle Topping. Latte watching over to be sure it is all good!

Yes, it was time for pie. A Raspberry and Nectarine Pie topped with Almond Streusel. As it baked the lovely smell of the fruit comingled with the almond topping. It really brightens the cool and unsunny day of summer. As I pulled it from the oven it continued to bubble as it cooled, I was mesmerized a bit as I watched it cool. I wanted to stand right over that warm bubbly pie with a spoon and dig in, but with much restraint I held back and waited a few hours for Brian to come home. After dinner we indulged in two slices a piece. They were so vibrantly tasty, like the summer sun worked some magic into the fruit that went into this pie. The sweet and slightly tart fruit filling against the crisply toasted almond topping was scrumptious. We continued eating a slice each night after dinner until there was no more. It is defiantly time for more pie!

Eating my second piece of pie.

Eating my second piece of pie.

Raspberry and Nectarine Pie with Almond Streusel (serves 10 – 12)

Almond Streusel

¾ cup of AP flour

½ cup of sugar

½ tsp of sea salt

3 oz butter, cold and cubed

½ cup of slivered almonds

1 tsp of vanilla extract

Filling

3 pints of raspberries, washed and picked over

3 nectarines, pitted and chopped into 1 – ½ inch cubes

½ cup of sugar

2 tbsp of A.P. flour

Crust

1/2 recipe of Pate Brise

First, follow the recipe for the pate brise. Once it is mixed and chilled roll out in a circular shape to about ¼ inch thickness. You are looking to fill a 9 – 10 inch pie pan. Gently lay the crust into the pan and gently fold the edges over and crimp it with your finger to flute the edging. Place the whole pan in the freezer and chill for about 30 minutes.

Pate Brise prepped in the pie plate,

Pate Brise prepped in the pie plate,

Next, in the bowl of a food processor place all your streusel ingredients and keep pulsing until your almonds are ground finely and your butter in in tiny lumps. Place it half of this mixture in a bowl and place in the refrigerator to keep chilled. The other half wrap tightly and store in the freezer for a later use. You may store it up to three months for another use.

Raspberry and Nectarine filling.

Raspberry and Nectarine filling.

Then, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. In a bowl place your raspberries, nectarines, sugar, and AP flour. Toss it all together well (it is okay id the berries start to break down). Remove your pie crust from the freezer and place the pie plate on a rimmed sheet pan. Gently pour the fruit filling into the pie crust and evenly distribute. Remove the streusel topping from the refrigerator and evenly place over the top of the fruit filling.

Almond Streusle topping all piled on.

Almond Streusle topping all piled on.

Finally, place in the middle of the oven and bake about 45 min to an hour. Be sure to rotate the pie half way though. Keep an eye on it as the topping may brown too quickly. If this is the case you can drop the oven temperature to 375 degrees for the remaining of the baking. When you crust and topping is evenly golden you should remove from the oven and let cool a few hours before serving.

Jul 17

Brown Butter Toasted Almond Blondies

The other day I wanted something other than fruit; with summer in full swing we are indulging in all the super ripe summer fruits. Berries, apricots, nectarines, cherries – we have been helping ourselves to handfuls at a time. They are super sweet and tart, while being so juicy their nectar can barely be contained when slicing them. It feels so good to be enjoying all the natural wonders of summer like this. But sometimes I feel like being naughty! By naughty I mean, indulging in something sweet and decadently chewy instead of all that summer stone fruit and berries.

Freshly baked Brown Butter Toasted Almond Blondies.

Freshly baked Brown Butter Toasted Almond Blondies.

So in the morning I made some brown butter and set it aside for cooling. Have you had brown butter before? I have heard it referred to as a gift of the culinary gods! But all that it is is butter that is left over a low flame until it is melted and the solids of the butter separate from the fat and it begins to “toast” and turns the loveliest deeply golden color. Brown butter possesses a slightly nutty aroma and flavor to it as well. It is fantastic to drizzle over steamed veggies, or to sauté a light piece of fish in it. As if that is not enough to do with it, add brown butter to a cookie or cake recipe and the flavor of that recipe creates a depth that exceeds normal butter. I would not say you should go around and replace brown butter in every baking recipe you have, but in certain items it makes it sublime.

Freshly made brown butter, notice the amber like color.

Freshly made brown butter, notice the amber like color.

With the brown butter made and cooled to room temperature I opted to whip up some Brown Butter Toasted Almond Blondies. They were moist, chewy, with a slightly crisp outer layer, while the interior was “almond-y“ and nutty from the brown butter. It was a perfect break away from the usual summer fruit. The blondies were great with some tea, and may I admit – even better as breakfast! This recipe is baked in a 9 by 13 inch pan, so depending on how you cut it you can end up with about fifteen pieces. More than enough to share and even more than enough to be naughty with. That is if you chose to eat them on your own; but I must admit, I enjoy them more when shared!

Chewy and Yummy!

Chewy and Yummy!

Brown Butter Toasted Almond Blondies (makes about 15)

1 ¼ cups (2 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for pan

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan

1 cup white whole wheat flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoons sea salt

1 ¾ cups packed light-brown sugar

¾ cup granulated sugar

3 eggs

1 tbsp pure vanilla extract

½ tsp almond extract

1 ¼ cup almond slivers, toasted

First, place a small heavy bottomed pot (at least a quart or two in size) over medium low heat and place your butter within it. Keeping a close eye on it, because it can burn very easily. It will melt, then it will foam a bit, before it will slowly start to “toast” and turn amber like in color. Once the color is achieved remove it from the heat and let cool. You can place it in a bowl if you wish, or it can remain in the pan. It will be fine at room temperature for the day, (you can wrap it up and store it in the refrigerator until its use). For this recipe you will want to have the browned butter at room temperature.

Next, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9 by 13 inch baking dish and set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer place your browned butter, brown sugar, and sugar in it. Mix it all together with the paddle attachment until pale in color and fluffy. To this add 1 egg at a time until it is thoroughly mixed before adding the next one. Scraping it down between them all. To this add your vanilla and almond extract and mix evenly.

Then; in a separate bowl add both of the flours, baking powder, and sea salt. Whisk it together and add it to your butter and egg mixture and mix it well, until it is even. To this add 1 cup of your toasted almonds and fold together. Pour the batter in your prepared pan and over the top sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup of almonds. Place it in the center of your oven and bake about 40 – 45 minutes, rotating it half way through.

Finally, once your Blondie appears golden and slightly firm you can remove and let cool about 30 minutes before slicing and serving. Can be wrapped in the pan or removed to a plate or platter and covered with plastic wrap. These Blondies can be stored at room temp for up to 5 days.

Jul 12

Beet Cured Salmon (Gravlax)

I have been strategizing as to what we can eat that does not warm up the apartment leaving us with our t-shirts sticking to us. Because when I do end up like that it leads to us sitting in front of our one fan to cool off with my hair curling to a point of no return.  The temperature out has not been too bad. In fact I have truly been enjoying the summer afternoons out and about. The sky has been the loveliest shade of blue. Yet, I have learned that it is only getting warmer.  What is a girl supposed to do?

Enjoying the warm summer afternoons out and about.

Enjoying the warm summer afternoons out and about.

I ended up curing some salmon this past week. There is no heat involved in that!  I got the recipe from a book I picked up while we were in London. It is called “Salt Sugar Smoke” by Diana Henry. If you have not guessed, it is all about preserving in every shape and form. I have loved reading it and putting it to use; so far the recipes from it have been great. The recipe for preserving the salmon really peaked my interest and part of the reason why I purchased the book to begin with.  You see it involves lots of dill, sugar, salt, and beets. Yes, beets! You mix it all together and pat it along the salmon. You wrap it up and place something a bit heavy on it and let it rest (cure) for a few days in the refrigerator. You then uncover it and viola – it is ready!!!

Getting the salmon ready for its curing.

Getting the salmon ready for its curing.

Salmon after curing.

Salmon after curing.

Could it be any easier? Other than planning ahead, I don’t think so. How to serve the cured salmon was now the question. I decided on a traditional rout of bagels, cream cheese, capers, onion, cucumber, and lettuce. But why I opted to make my own bagels in this heat? I really have no answer other than I wanted the challenge. So in the late afternoon I was boiling water to make bagels. The kitchen grew humid and my hair’s natural curl crept in to make an appearance. After boiling them you bake them. Bake them in an oven preheated to 425 degrees. (So much for that easy and cool dinner.) The bagels were delicious, but the overall recipe needs more tweaking. I will be doing that once things cool down outside. Until then I hope you enjoy the salmon recipe. The beets are quite mild in flavor but lend their intensity of color. It is the dill you taste overall with an undertone of sweetness followed by a hint of saltiness. Quite perfect for a summer evening, as we sit in front of the fan and enjoy our dinner.  Other than the obvious, it is great and impressive to grace a table for a brunch. If you end up giving the recipe a try feel free to eat the cured salmon any way you wish, but believe me – it just might be best in this heat to go out and purchase the bagels.

Plated Salmon, with all the fixings!

Plated Salmon, with all the fixings!

Beet Cured Salmon (serves 14)

*recipe from the book- Salt Sugar Smoke by, Diana Henry

2 lbs 12 oz of Salmon, tail pieces in two halves (filleted but skin left on)

6 tbsp of Vodka

4 ½ oz of Sugar

3 1/3 oz of Sea Salt

2 tbsp of Black Pepper, coarsely ground

1 large bunch of Dill, roughly chopped

14 oz of Beets. peeled and grated

First, check your salmon to be sure it is clean and no pin bones remain. You can check this by running your fingers over the salmon to see if you feel any bones remaining. If so you can remove them with a tweezers.

Next, line a large platter or dish with foil. (I used a rimmed baking sheet.) With your salmon halves skin side down rub the flesh evenly with the vodka. In a bowl place your sugar, sea salt, dill, black pepper, and beets. Toss it all together well.  Lay one half of your salmon skin side down on the foil. Top it with your dill and beet mixture and pat it down. Place the other half of your salmon over it, flesh side down (facing the dill and beet mixture). Wrap your foil up and around your salmon halves to completely cover it. You are looking to overall cover the salmon with the foil. If it does not cover it completely don’t worry. You can use more foil to cover it. Place the foil covered salmon on your dish or platter and place a weight on it (like a can or two of food); you are just looking to “weight it down” slightly. Place it in the refrigerator and rotated it every day or so replacing the weight on top with each turn. Some liquid might spill out, that is fine and normal. Just drain it off.

Finally, after about 4 days to a week you can remove the salmon from the refrigerator. Unwrap it carefully and remove all the dill-beet mixture. Once you scrape it clean you are ready to slice and serve. When slicing run a very sharp knife along the flesh and cutting it in thin pieces, away from the skin.

***Note: if not using right away the cured salmon can be wrapped tightly in plastic and frozen for up to a month. Defrost in the refrigerator before slicing and serving. 

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